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In-game thoughts: MSU with a narrow lead against Miami after back-and-forth first half

September 18, 2021
<p>Junior running back Kenneth Walker III (9) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against Miami on Sept. 18, 2021. </p>

Junior running back Kenneth Walker III (9) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of the game against Miami on Sept. 18, 2021.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Michigan State leads Miami 10-7 after a back-and-forth first half.

Michigan State took the lead early on a 24-yard Matt Coghlin field goal but quickly surrendered it after giving up a touchdown on the next possession. MSU retook the lead with a touchdown catch from Kenneth Walker III with under five minutes left in the second quarter and carried that lead into halftime.

Here are some key takeaways from MSU’s performance so far in the battle with the Hurricanes. 

The defense has been bent, but not broken

Going in, the biggest question for MSU was whether or not the Spartan defense had the speed to match Miami’s athletes and keep them contained. Miami has athletes all across the board capable of testing MSU after they did not face elite speed in the first two games of the season.

However, through two quarters, the MSU defense has been up to the challenge. D’Eriq King, one of the most electric and explosive quarterbacks in college football, has been contained by the Michigan State front seven, who haven't allowed King to exploit MSU’s man coverage by scrambling. 

King accounted for 219 total yards in the first half, most of which came from short passes on the outside part of the field. The Spartan defense, especially the secondary, has been bent multiple times by the Hurricanes’ offense but has not broken and allowed a score or big play. 

The return of defensive end Drew Beesley has also been a big positive for the Spartans. Beesley has been living in the 'Canes' backfield while keeping outside contain on King, not allowing him to run loose. 

MSU’s secondary struggling in its first real test

The biggest source of Miami’s offense in the first half was through the air. King was able to take his time and find the guy he wanted, usually Charleston Rambo, who has nine catches for 109 yards so far, because of soft coverage from the MSU secondary. 

MSU’s cornerbacks are lining up 10 yards away from the Hurricanes’ receivers, allowing them to do what they want off the line of scrimmage. King has taken full advantage of the space, consistently finding receivers on comeback routes for eight to 15 yards a play. 

The end of the half was redeeming for the Spartans' secondary. Angelo Grose made a leaping interception over the middle of the field after reading King’s eyes like a book. The defense will need to adjust its outside coverage and rely on Grose and Xavier Henderson to cover them deep to stop the success of the methodical Miami passing game. 

MSU should open up its play-calling

Michigan State brought the conservative nature of the Big Ten along with their suitcases to South Beach. After being able to do whatever they wanted in the first two weeks of the season because of an athletic advantage, MSU continued with that same mindset into the Hard Rock Stadium. 

However, Miami is not Northwestern or Youngstown State. The Hurricanes have more athletes and talent across the board than the Spartans, and they used that to their advantage against the conservative play calls from MSU’s offense. 

Kenneth Walker III was only able to break one run for a first down after a nice cutback but has mainly been stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The MSU offensive line cannot sustain a push up front against Miami’s defensive line and has been allowing the linebackers to run free to Walker and Payton Thorne. 

After two sacks on Thorne on the two opening possessions for MSU, the passing calls also became more conservative. Thorne has mainly relied on rollouts to escape the pressure but does not have the real estate to throw to only half the field. 

The offense started to get rolling at the end of the second half after getting the ball to its athletes in space. The only touchdown drive of the first half for the Spartans relied on getting the ball to its best players like Jalen Nailor and Kenneth Walker on the edge of the field to take advantage of Miami’s shoddy tackling in the secondary. MSU was able to break chunk play after chunk play on the drive and Walker eventually found the endzone. 

MSU will need to open up the playbook and trust its players to make plays if Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker and the Spartans want to start scoring consistently in the second half and build their lead. 

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